Weather Forecast Worsens for Thursday Shuttle Launch

CAPECANAVERAL, Fla. - The countdown for NASA's planned night launchof the shuttle DiscoveryThursday remains on schedule, though a deteriorating weather forecast continuesto plague the space shot.

"Weare tracking no real issues that would the affect the launch of the spaceshuttle Discovery tomorrow," said NASA test director Jeff Spaulding.

Launchengineers are investigating two technicalissues that cropped up during routine shuttle inspections, but neither one isexpected to delay launch. One involves a brief power surge in electricalcircuits connecting power from the mobile launch platform to the orbiter andthe other an anomalous test result from an adhesive used on the shuttle'sreusable solid rocket motor.

Discoveryis slated to lift off with seven astronauts at 9:35:47 p.m. EST (0235:47 Dec. 8GMT) toward the InternationalSpace Station (ISS) for a 12-day construction mission. The STS-116mission's launch window runs from Dec. 7 to 17, with the possibility thatit could be extended further if NASA managers decide to allow the mission to runover the New Year.

"I'mpleased to announce that our vehicle, our team, and hopefully, our launchweather, will also be ready for tomorrow's launch," Spaulding said.

But weatherhere at Kennedy Space Center has been less cooperative. A cold front movinginto Central Florida is expected to bring showers and low clouds that couldaffect launch. As a result, predictions for favorable weather on Thursday havegradually deteriorated and currently stand at 60 percent.

The outlookfor Friday and Saturday are even bleaker.

"Theforecast is trended towards the worst," NASA shuttle weather officer KathyWinters said. "Right now, we're just mainly concerned about the [cloud]ceiling on launch day and the following two days we're going to really beconcerned about the winds."

Weatherconditions are expected to clear up on Sunday, however, and to remain clearuntil Tuesday.

"Westill are going to be concerned about crosswinds, but we think Tuesday out ofthose three days is going to be the best day," Winters said.

Led by commanderMark Polanksy, the seven-member crewof STS-116 are tasked with delivering a new portside piece of the InternationalSpace Station (ISS) and rewiring the orbital laboratory's electrical grid. Mission specialists SunitaWilliams will also relieve ESA astronaut ThomasReiter who has been aboard the station since July.

Significantevents planned for today include power up and checkout of ground and orbitercommunications systems and the removal later tonight of the rotating servicingstructure that protects the shuttle from the elements. In between an ISS systemsbrief and shuttle landing practice, the astronauts will also get to see andspend time with their families today.

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Staff Writer

Ker Than is a science writer and children's book author who joined as a Staff Writer from 2005 to 2007. Ker covered astronomy and human spaceflight while at, including space shuttle launches, and has authored three science books for kids about earthquakes, stars and black holes. Ker's work has also appeared in National Geographic, Nature News, New Scientist and Sky & Telescope, among others. He earned a bachelor's degree in biology from UC Irvine and a master's degree in science journalism from New York University. Ker is currently the Director of Science Communications at Stanford University.